The unprecedented political manipulation of the two national political parties in Uttarakhand has turned the forthcoming assembly election into a kaleidoscope. While an en masse exodus of Congress stalwarts to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has left the Congress high and dry with only Harish Rawat left as a big leader and lonely campaigner for the now ‘Harish Rawat Congress’, the BJP on the other hand, transformed into a mini-Congress, has to manoeuvre a strategy to neutralize the political ambitions of these powerful leaders if it gets a majority.
Such a political kaleidoscope has created an interesting scenario—Congress leaders until recently charged with corruption and accumulation of unaccounted wealth by the BJP are now part of the BJP, and many BJP politicians have defected to the Congress. The induction of turncoats and intermingling of BJP and Congress into one another has not only blurred the boundaries of these parties but also sidetracked important developmental issues and the demand for more representation to women.
An increasing number of independent candidates is not only indicative of internal dissent within the parties but also their value as kingmakers if the main political parties fail to get a majority. In the 2012 assembly election, the BJP secured 31 seats and a vote share of 33.13% and the Congress 32 seats and a vote share of 33.79% and due to the pledge of anti-BJP parties to keep the BJP out of power, the BJP could not form government. The Congress with the help of the Bahujan Saman Party (BSP), Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) and independents came together as the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) and formed the government. In the bargain, the PDF not only got a share in power but also played a key role in saving the Harish Rawat government from falling in March 2016. To repay them for their loyalty, Rawat, ignoring dissent within the party, has launched two PDF candidates on a Congress ticket and given a walkover to two more by not fielding candidates against them.
Although since the beginning, the failure of the UKD, Samajwadi Party and BSP to emerge as an effective third front meant the contest for power has been bipolar, the BSP and independents due to their vote share ranging around 10-12% in each election have been playing an important role in government formation. In 2007, the BJP with 35 seats and a vote share of 31.90% formed government with the help of UKD and independents. The Congress did the same in 2012. Interestingly, despite a largely bipolar contest the margin of winning and losing seats between BJP and Congress has always been less than 2% and this margin makes or mars the chances of either Congress or BJP.
The political drama that unfolded with the threat of dethroning of the Harish Rawat government by rebel MLAs in March 2016 is still going on as BJP giving tickets to these rebels has generated internal dissent in the BJP. The decision of many disgruntled leaders of both parties to contest as independents against official candidates irrespective of disciplinary action of expulsion from the party for six years has converted a bipolar contest into three-way contests in such seats. While the BJP intends to take maximum advantage of ex-Congress leaders who joined the BJP, the Congress is also not behind. It has also fielded disgruntled candidates of BJP to challenge the BJP’s strategy.
On the other hand, the compromises being made by BJP to ensure a win in Uttarakhand by giving tickets to sons and daughters or relatives have put a dent on the central BJP leadership’s stand of not promoting nepotism. Allocation of tickets to ex-chief minister Vijay Bahuguna’s son Saurabh Bahuguna from Sitarganj, B.C. Khanduri’s daughter Ritu from Yumkeshwar, Yashpal Arya from Bajpur and his son Sanjeev from Nainital illustrates this. As a result local BJP leaders are contesting as independents from Narendranagar, Kedarnath, Ranikhet, Kashipur, Gangotri, Didihat, Pratapnagar and Devprayag. Similarly Shailendra Singh Negi, the BJP leader who was denied a ticket from Kotdwar, is contesting from Yumkeshwar on a Congress ticket and challenging B.C. Khanduri’s daughter.
Congress is also witnessing a revolt in seats like Sahaspur, Dhanolti, Devprayag, Yumkeshwar, Jwalapur, Rudraprayag and Bhimtal where disgruntled candidates are contesting as independents. Even the state presidents of BJP and Congress are entangled in tri-polar contests by the presence such independents. This situation has increased the chances of internal sabotage.
The defeat of B.C. Khanduri in 2012 who was brought in just before the election on the slogan Khanduri Hain Jaruri (Khanduri is necessary) is also attributed to internal sabotage and rivalry. While allocation of tickets to Rajput caste leaders in more than 30 assembly seats by both parties is aimed at luring Rajput voters in hill areas, the shifting of base by the chief ministerial candidate Harish Rawat to Haridwar and Kicha also makes demography of plain areas important.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hugely successful rally held after demonetisation in Dehradun and pre-poll surveys are indicating a Modi wave, which is likely to bring the BJP to power. But the challenge of neutralizing half a dozen potential claimants for chief ministership, including four ex-CMs B.C. Khanduri, B.S. Koshyari, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishak and Vijay Bahuguna as well as Satpal Maharaj and Harak Singh Rawat would be extremely difficult for BJP. Currently BJP seems most happy to rupture the Congress and is contesting in Modi’s name but refusing tickets to its own party leaders has opened a Pandora’s Box of power politics which can impact the outcome of the election. As electoral politics has become a game of self -motivated interests, opportunism and rivalry, the likelihood of something different cannot be denied, unless Modi’s mantra of corruption-less government works in BJP’s favour.
Annpurna Nautiyal is a professor of political science at HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Garhwal, Uttarakhand.